Mom & Dad at the Berlin Wall, 1965

Mom & Dad at the Berlin Wall

Our approach to design is derived consciously and subconsciously from life experiences as well as education, but what I noticed upon reflection was that my experiences were full of the same contrasts and contradictions as my personal design style.

– I grew up within the very transient military community.  I love midcentury modern, its light feel, its clean lines, its break-down design and functionality.  But I also love the world-traveler look with deep, rich colors and touches of steampunk.  Maybe I have dissociative identity disorder.

-I’m not a shabby chic fan, but so many in the southeast Valley are, that I sprinkle pieces in with the Heywood-Wakefield tables at my vintage/antique shop.  It sells so quickly I have to keep finding more. So…multiple personalities AND a hypocrite.

-In government housing, it was taboo to paint the walls, and hanging artwork was barely tolerated.  Now my walls are covered with 2-D and 3-D art.  I love creating complex color schemes from photographs and found objects, but agonize for weeks on my own home’s palette before dragging my husband, kicking and screaming, into the decision-making process.  Maybe I have dependent personality disorder, too.

Or could it be that there are just a lot of colors in my cumulative life palette?

The Influence of Our Experiences

Our home has no definable style.  Unless, of course, you call ‘Smithsonian’ a style.  What it DOES have is pizzazz—a sense of rhythm inspired by our love for music—that combination of familiar repetition and jazzy, stop-and-go patterns that leads the eye through a space to land briefly on a special piece and then take flight again, like a butterfly in search of a flower.  It’s all about motion.  I lived in five homes before the age of ten, so it follows.

Washed Pebbles

Washed Pebbles

Years ago we turned a ridiculously small upstairs bedroom into a loft library.  Tearing out the wall was cathartic, tapping a distant memory from pre-teen/teen years in Cold War West Berlin, where confinement by The Wall was an underlying aspect of daily life.  Recently we focused our cameras on Anasazi cliff dwellings and Hawaiian heiaus, whose walls protected people for centuries.  It’s a delicate balance to provide a feeling of comfort and security without adding the negative feeling of confinement, and something I try to incorporate into my designs.

Come to think of it, the midcentury calling I call MCMLove© probably comes from a rather warped nostalgia for my early 1960s childhood.  We lived in a target zone surrounded by missile silos during the Cuban Missile Crisis, among government agency personnel who knew just how close we were to nuclear war.  It was a time of family and community bonding, a drilling down to what was important.  We stocked a 6’x6’ interior storage room to hold those important things: one another, food and water.  OK, and some cyanide pills—just in case.  So it’s probably no surprise that my favorite quirky holiday song is “Christmas at Ground Zero.”  Released in the latter years of the Cold War, it’s a look back at our blasé attitude toward mutual annihilation.  Nostalgia always showcases the best of an era.

Moving Beyond “Everyhome”

In the mid-2000s, several people asked me to redesign homes that already looked like models to me.  Turns out, they wanted to remedy just that: the feeling that their house was an architectural version of “Everyman” that I call “Everyhome.”  (Hey, it’s kinder than Millennial McMansion.)

The first time I was called in to cure an Everyhome, I knew I had to seek out the essence of the people living there—who they were, what they loved, the places they’d been that spoke to their souls.  I refined my client questionnaire to draw out what inspired each person.   My clients and I thus became a stronger team, collaborating to forge a new design born of the character, diversity and spirit of their families.

Whatever the style, this approach usually results in something indefinable being infused into the design, an aggregate essence unique to that home.

It’s your space—let it bring you and your family joy upon waking and peace at day’s end!


dkempton A professional member of IIDA, Diana earned her specialty LEED credential for Interior Design + Construction in 2013, having earned her LEED AP in Building Design and Construction in 2006. She worked for Del Webb Corporation designing semi-custom interiors, and spent thirteen years with a local builder supplier before returning to work as an independent designer. She also operates an antiques dealership and teaches sustainable design, space planning, materials and estimates, and color theory at the college level. In creating livable interiors, she is particularly sensitive to not allowing our high-tech lifestyles and the interior walls of our homes to divide us from one another, and has been focusing on Mid-century Modern design in recent years. Diana can be reached at